Eighty women begin walking around the room. The energy is charged, noisy, pulsing with excitement. One student scuttles to the side of the room and tucks a few dollars away in her backpack; another runs to her wallet and takes out more cash. At the three-minute mark, I ask everyone to stop, sit down, notice what happened and how they feel.

Catherine says, "It ended up just as I thought it would: I have less than anyone else, less than I started with. I can breathe again."

"I ended up with more than I started with, and I feel antsy, like I have to give it away quickly. It's what I do with my money in real life. I have it but can't hold on to it—I fritter it away on expensive things that, when all is said and done, are meaningless to me."

As we talked about what happened during the exercise, it was apparent that their beliefs about money were expressions of what they believed they were allowed or not allowed to have in the rest of their lives. Their predictions about what would happen were almost exact descriptions of what actually happened.

It is impossible to replace one set of beliefs with another by only using what the New Age movement has labeled "Affirmations." You can repeat "I am lovable" a thousand times a day, you can sing it to yourself when you go to sleep and think about it the minute you open your eyes, but if an earlier belief or conviction of being unlovable is installed in your psyche, you will be wasting your time because you won't believe yourself. If you don't do the actual work of deconstructing your fundamental beliefs, the affirmations have no place to land or stick; they won't work.

It wasn't until we lost our savings to Bernie Madoff that I first understood what I believed about money. I watched my father lie, cheat and steal. I watched my mother spend outrageous amounts of money to get back at him. I saw how he used money to wield power over my mother, my brother and me. I felt humiliated by my desire to have his love, get his money and stockpile things.

How your money beliefs create your reality
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money Copyright ?? Geneen Roth, 2011


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